[Pigging by Wilfrid: November 21, 2016]
So Austin's Emmer & Rye isn't the only non-Chinese restaurant with a dim sum service theme. I remember seeing The Church Key in L.A. show the same paces on Bravo's Best New Restaurant show.
Award-winning Emmer & Rye chef Kevin Fink clearly thinks the dim sum component of the menu is a good idea, and I'm sure regulars love it, and it's not going anywhere. I liked almost everything else about the place.
It's located in the Rainey Street Historic District, about a ten to fifteen minute stroll from downtown (depending on where you think downtown stops). Rainey Street itself is a marvel, especially to New York eyes. It's lined, on both sides, with enormous--really huge--bars and clubs. One-story bungalows, for the most part, but gigantic--inside and outside, as most have terraces. I can't comprehend how many people could be drinking on this street at any one time (I was there mid-week: it was quiet).
Emmer & Rye is a bright, modern oasis on the strip: the design, I suppose, is industrial. One warning about the chef's counter--it's so high you can almost rest your chin on it.
The menu strongly emphasizes local ingredients, and it's lay-out isn't so odd. "Savory" dishes are in one column, leaving diners to deduce from prices and ingredients that the plates gradually get larger as you read your way down--ending with a monstrous pork chop for two at $35. There's also the "Sweet" column--self-explanatory. But then there's "dim sum" too.
How the dim sum works in theory is that trolleys set with three or four varieties of small plate set off from the kitchen from time to time, with servers offering the food table-side. How this is not like Chinatown dim sum service is that there are only two (maybe three trolleys), they appear occasionally, and the scope of their offerings means that a visit to one table can clear them. In short, you don't know when the trolley is coming your way, with something you want on it (I turned down three dim sum proffers during my meal, finally getting what I wanted--and you know, it could have just been listed on the menu). Anyway...
First up from the regular savory menu, a highly spiced appetizer of blue crab with mandarin orange segments and cilantro. The crab was good, the heat a little threatening but finally under control. (I turned down, for example, a cold shrimp appetizer from the dim sum trolley, offered around the same time my crab appetizer arrived).
Short rib carnitas were flavorful enough, although a little dry. They needed the help from radish slices, diced jalapeño, corn and tomato (a sort of informal succotash).
The carnitas were eaten with a big, plate sized roti. Tortillas would be more obvious, of course, and also could have been used to wrap the carnitas. But the roti, warm and oil-flecked, was enjoyable.
And then the dim sum I'd been waiting for--and ideally I wouldn't have eaten it right after the roti. Johnny cakes, three fat ones, stuffed with tasty pork confit. A dab of crème fraîche to moisten them. These were great, and $6 for the portion (compare $20 for the carnitas).
The johnny cakes enthused me for dessert, and I'm glad they did, because this was the other highlight of the meal. A light, creamy, ginger-infused panna cotta, with pieces of "bitter" honey comb, a pecan granola, and more of those orange slices. Beautifully balanced for flavor and texture.
Wines BTG are inexpensive ($10 and $12 options), and you can end up here with a surprisingly modest check. Unless you order everything off the dim sum trolley each time it comes around.